Chet Faker emerged a crooner, putting his own twist on a Blackstreet classic – electric piano garnished with light effects. A a rich vocal timbre, slightly weathered, slightly withheld. Chet Faker emerged big.
Since carving a slipstream with "No Diggity", Chet Faker – the solo project from Melbourne's Nick Murphy – has flourished in a mercurial form as a songwriter, producer and performer. Initial shows saw Nick planted behind a piano, beanie on head, in recital mode. As his festival billing swelled in font sizes both at home in Australia and internationally, an indeterminable transformation began to take place. There is grand space between instrumental performer and festival producer, and Chet Faker floats within that space. The recital element remains, but Nick now at times resembles producers you might find at dance festivals, standing behind an array of gear, moving with the music as samples are triggered with wireless mic in hand. A freedom, of sorts.
The growth of Chet Faker's standing as a producer is documented with Built On Glass, the 2014 debut full-length album reaching into bolder, more experimental territory. The move paid off. Built On Glass sold platinum in Australia. "Talk Is Cheap" was voted number one in the 2014 Hottest 100 ("Gold" and "1998" placed top ten). The album was an creative and commercial success, resulting in heavy touring (over 200 shows) since the album's release.
Nick is on tour in the United States as he speaks on the phone. He sounds level-headed. "The first day was a little rough, we had an hour and a half flight that got cancelled. So that was a 16 hour travel day with a 4AM check-in. Everything else has been alright." I think he might always sound level-headed. He speaks about being involved in the Melbourne underground house scene while not making underground house music. He speaks about his EP with Flume. He speaks about a new EP with Flume. Nick has conviction regarding laptops on stage. There's measure pride in Australia's music, measured pride in being self-made. He says it all with a level head. I like that.
THUMP: Your debut EP Thinking In Textures, how would you describe yourself as a producer at that time?
Chet Faker: Lo-fi for sure. Lo-fi is the key word there. I recorded it in a garage with a tin roof, I couldn't record if it was windy or raining. The rain would make a noise and the wind would make the trees scratch on the roof. It was pretty rudimentary, really pieced together. Crap. I remember my soundcard blowing out smoke one day when it died. That was pretty funny at the time. It's funny man, I had this really weird idea of what a balanced mix was back then. It's changed now, probably just from spending so much time in the industry and listening to other music, I have a more normal perception of a mix with a full bottom end. Thinking In Textures, there's no bass on the whole release.
What was the Melbourne electronica scene like when you started?
I wasn't really part of the scene. There was Galapagoose, Electric Sea Spider. I don't know those guys, I was just recording on my own. I was homies with the house scene, the underground house scene – like Lewie Day (Tornado Wallace) and Otologic, Francis Inferno, Mic Newman (Fantastic Man), Andy Hart – I knew all those dudes – Sleep D – and still do. My music doesn't fit into that scene, but that's the scene I came from. It obviously contributed to my music, but it didn't shape it. We didn't play the same gigs, I'm not running into them on the beaches of Ibiza.
A tangible result of your involvement in that community is your feature with Coober Pedy University Band (Tornado Wallace and Otologic).
Initially the project was gonna be the three of us. It wasn't a collab, it was the new project. Me, Tom [Moore] and Lewie. It was funny, at the time they were talking about Balaeric, and back then I didn't know what that was, I didn't understand what these guys were on about. They were always about a year ahead of me in that scene. Once we did that track, we kind of went in different directions. My stuff was getting too hands on. That was cool, that new "Kookaburra", I love that. I was from that scene, but it's different for those dudes. It's the underground, a lot of cats in those scenes don't wanna go where I'm going with a lot of my music. Once I left the underground, I was no longer part of that scene, for better or worse.
I wish I was just getting started now, it's a dope time to be figuring your shit out.
When it comes to your growth and direction as musician, how do you think that has correlated with Australia's taste in music? As a prominent musician, have you pushed it in one direction? Or has Australia's appreciation for electronic music has grown and people don't really give a shit about genre? How do you perceive it?
It's way different now then it was back then, there's more pride in the Australian music scene now, because so many artists have taken it to an international stage. Australia has this weird thing where we look outside of Australia for a nod of approval. That's proven in a sense, that now there is a pride in Australia just because we've had enough nods of approval from overseas. Now it's a given that there is talent here. That's awesome. I wish I was just getting started now, it's a dope time to be figuring your shit out. When I was starting, that wasn't going on, I was just kinda in my garage. I was doing the same thing, listening to Jai Paul and Suff Daddy, Miles Bonny and D'Angelo. None of those are Australian.
Let's talk about Lockjaw, your project with Harley (Flume). What did you learn and take away from that experience?
I write and produce and record all of my own shit on my own, and I liked coming to that project as just a vocalist in a way. Just thinking about vocals and even kind of letting go a bit more, there are lots of things on that Lockjaw EP that I would change, but that's what a collaboration is. The whole idea behind that was because I wanted to create a separate vision between my art, which is my bread and butter, and this opposite approach which was open arms and like, "let's just make music and see what comes out". [Marcus Marr and I] are actually working on another collaborative EP, which is coming out real soon.
Built On Glass is a much larger scale project than Thinking In Textures. How did you feel as a producer while beginning to put the album together, and as you finished?
I think that Built On Glass gave me a lot of confidence in a way. Finishing it did. When I started I didn't know if I had the skills to produce the sound that I wanted. I was chasing this sound. Built On Glass is a far cry from Thinking In Textures, especially in terms of production. Remembering that it was only two years apart. It was a lot of work, as a producer. I think by the end of Built On Glass I knew that I was a producer. I knew that I could focus on something, figure it out, and get it. That's what a real producer is. A producer isn't somebody that can only do one sound, that's just some fucking dude with a laptop. Before I started Built On Glass I wasn't sure which one I was, because I'd done this one sound but I wasn't sure if I could set a goal, and chase it and reach it and learn how to create that world. Built On Glass was pretty big for me from a production side.
Breaking down "Talk Is Cheap", the elements in that track: sax, percussion, electric piano, your voice, bass. They're all distinct elements, that are difficult to see working together until you hear the song. Was that the sound in the head your head? Did you achieve that?
Yes and no. I've always had this thing, where everything I work on has to be distinct. I think that's why I always have trouble with a certain type of music that uses a lot of the same sounds – say trap, for example. It's the 808 kicks, snares and hats. I just felt like as a musician I don't just want to write a good melody, I want a write a good everything. I want to put the same creative flair into each step of the process. With Talk Is Cheap, that's a good example. I think there was a punk naivety to that, there was a lot of trial and error. Built On Glass will probably be the hardest album I'll ever write. It almost killed me. I almost went nuts. I didn't know what I was doing, I was just trying, and trying and trying. It was a real anarchist approach to album writing.
The album has a lot of different sonic qualities and production behind it, how did you go about translating that into the live show?
It's definitely ongoing, one of the hardest things is that I wasn't signed to a major label where you get given a million dollars. I was paying for flights with my own money, I don't have rich parents. I knew I couldn't afford the full band situation that I wanted or needed. Thinking In Textures was a nightmare to play live, it ended up being pretty laptop heavy. I hate laptops on stage, but you've kind of gotta, sometimes. It's definitely ongoing, and always will be. With this generation, computers are a part of music now. The shit you can do is so out of this world, there are so many ways to recreate it. You can have people hitting a bunch of pads like the '80s, or you could have people trying to play it live where you might lose some of that production edge or whatever. It's this weird happy medium that's constantly being chased and chased, and it changes from song to song. It's definitely ongoing but I like it, and enjoy it the more I do it.
Follow Lachlan Kanoniuk on Twitter.